E-rara.ch: Ancient Books, Public Domain and Moral Barriers

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Prix Möbius Suisse Rewards Inaccessible Flash Site

Claude AlmansiBy Claude Almansi
Editor, Accessibility Issues

Last Saturday, Oct. 3, 2009, the awards ceremony of  Premio Möbius took place in Lugano (CH). There were two categories: Premio Möbius Multimedia, for cultural CDs and DVDs in Italian, and Grand Prix Möbius Suisse, for Swiss websites about cultural heritage.

Prix Möbius international de la Communauté Européenne, Scienza Tecnica e Medicina, Cultura, Arti e Lettere, Educazione e Formazione permanente, Premio Möbius Multimedia Lugano

Prix Möbius candidates

In the Prix Möbius category, the candidates were:

Accessibility and ease of navigation

As for accessibility and ease of navigation,  the Zurich Kunsthaus and Centre Dürrenmatt sites are the best: they read well in linear version (as spoken by screen readers) and have hierarchical headers, which allow people using a screen reader to quickly navigate from section to section (unfortunately, the Centre Dürrenmatt, being a national museum, has to use the drab template of all Swiss federal and cantonal sites).

Next best is the site of Museum Franz Gertsch; “next” because in order to enter the otherwise accessible and easily navigable rest of the site, you have to click on the word “mehr” (more) in the home page – not a very intuitive process.

Then, on a par, there are  the websites of Fotomuseum Winterthur and Site Archéologique de la Cathédrale Saint-Pierre, which don’t use hierarchical headers, hence are not easily navigable with a screen reader.

The worst by far is the site of the m.a.x. museo:

screenshot of the site as seen with Firefox on a laptop with 1280x800 screen

Screenshot of the site as seen with Firefox on a laptop with a 1280x800 screen.

The site is entirely in Flash. What a screen reader would voice is “Page has three frames and no linksm.a.x.museo colon plus forty-one left paren zero right paren ninety-one six hundred eighty-two fifty-six fifty-six dash Internet ExplorerFrameFrame end.FrameFrame end.FrameFrame end.”

Actually, in spite of the “no links,” there are two links: to the Italian and the English version, but as they are within the Flash movie, the screen-reader cannot identify them. And these two don’t even show on a laptop with 1280×800 screen, using Firefox (see screenshot above).

And the winner of Prix Möbius Suisse . . .

. . . is the site of the m.a.x. museo, www.maxmuseo.ch. Leaving aside its violation of accessibility norms, the motivation for awarding it the Prix Moebius is rather odd: “It achieves an immediate, natural and linguistically coherent synthesis of the museum’s identity and of Max Huber’s world” (my translation). Now all the site says about the museum’s identity and Max Huber’s world is:

. . . the m.a.x. museo was established on the 12th of November 2006 by the wife of leading Swiss graphic designer, the late Max Huber, Aoi Huber-Kono, with the aim of disseminating design culture and leaving his work to posterity.
It is the aspiration of this museum that it will serve as a bridge towards young designers and artists of future generations through various exhibitions, while conveying the message of Max Huber who dedicated his life to design.
We plan to organize exhibitions primarily on graphic design in order to present “design” in general to the world.

Very synthetic indeed – not even a single link to other information about Max Huber in the links section.

Granted, the flash movie is pretty. But is this enough to decree that a site is “the best site for cultural heritage,” as the description of Prix Moebius Suisse maintains?

Two paradoxes

The first paradox is that the jury of Prix Moebius Suisse is chaired by Professor Paolo Paolini, who is in charge of a Master’s course in Design of Interactive Applications for Cultural Heritage. Does he really think the purely-flash site of the m.a.x museo is an example his students should follow?

The second paradox is that Professor Paolo Paolini is co-author, with his colleagues of the Lugano Università della Svizzera Italiana, Elisa Rubegni, Alberto Terragni and Stefano Vaghi, of “Accessibility for Blind Users: An Innovative Framework” (Springer Verlag, 2008), whose abstract says:

. . . The main thesis of this paper, which focuses on blind users, is that technical recommendations (as those of the W3C) are not sufficient to guarantee actual accessibility, that we define as the possibility for the users of “reading” the website and “navigating through it” in an effective manner. A consequence of our approach is the emphasis on design, as a way to achieve actual accessibility, and on usability (by blind users,) as the main evaluation criterion. . . .

Actually, Making Content Understandable and Navigable was already one of the two main themes of the first WC3’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 1.0). And WCAG 2.0 has a whole section entitled Provide ways to help users navigate, find content, and determine where they are.

If more websites – including the site of the Moebius Awards, www.moebiuslugano.ch, which presently conveys textual info in the .jpg image reproduced at the top of this post without an alternative description and violates accessibility commonsense in too many further ways to list here – at least applied these existing guidelines, people with disabilities would have an easier time reading and navigating them.

So Professor Paolini and his colleagues want to go further than these WCAG, apparently. That’s great. But then, why did he, as chairman of the Prix Möbius jury, allow the award to go to a site that is fully inaccessible to blind people?

Political poisoned gift?

Could there be a political agenda behind the selection of the m.a.x museo site? A kind of “cultural exception” protectionist policy à la French? An unwritten rule to favor local sites [1], no matter how unusable and inaccessible?

If so, this is a very short-sighted and harmful policy, particularly for such flash-only sites:

  • The content of  sites made entirely in flash does not get indexed by search engines, which cannot parse text inserted in a movie anymore than in a .jpg picture. When I tried to find info about a very beautiful exposition of Bruno Munari‘s work the Museum had in 2008 by googling “max museo Chiasso” (without quotes), the first hit was indeed to section www.maxmuseo.ch/en/museo.html of the museum’s site, but that page says nothing about the Munari.
    And if you try the Google cache link for this hit, a message says: “This is Google’s cache of http://www.maxmuseo.ch/en/museo.html. It is a snapshot of the page as it appeared on 16 Jul 2009 22:32:17 GMT. (…) These terms only appear in links pointing to this page: max museo munari.”
  • Sites made entirely in flash do not open at all in cell phones, and that again is paradoxical, considering that the Möbius Awards ceremony on Oct. 3, 2009, started with a round table about digital natives, where speakers underline the present evolution towards cell phones rather than computers for internet use.

Hence awarding the Prix Möbius to such a site lulls the site owner into thinking they have a good thing, whereas they only have a pretty gimmick that cuts them off from search engine results and from cell phone users. Above all, the award is an insult to blind people – and in the case of m.a.x museo Chiasso, to low-sighted people as well, as the navigation links in the flash movie are in very pale grey on white.


[1] Re this possible political bias for Ticinese websites: in 2008, the Prix Moebius for cultural heritage went to kunstpanorama.ch, the sanely textual site of the Luzern Kunsthalle, though they also gave a special mention for cacticino.net,  yet another Ticinese flash website (of the Centro d’Arte Contemporanea Ticino). This is proven by web.archive.org/web/20080511213956/http://www.moebiuslugano.ch/annun.html, i.e., the version of the awards announcement saved on May 11, 2009, by the Internet Archive and by the entries about this 2008 Möbius award in Kultpavillon.ch, the blog of Kunstpanorama.ch. However, the page for the 2008 awards of the Premio Moebius website strangely lists cacticino.net for the Cultural Heritage award and kunstpanorama.ch for the special mention.

ICT for Development and Education: Exit LIFI

claude80By Claude Almansi
Staff Writer

Thanks –

to all members of the LIFI (Laboratorio di Ingegneria della Formazione e Innovazione, or Laboratory of Educational Engineering and Innovation) team [1] for their concrete and theoretical work in the field of ICT (Information and Communications Technologies) for development and education, which I had the privilege to follow rather closely as translator of many of their texts since 1998.

Thanks also to Lynn Zimmerman and Steve Eskow for the discussion they started in this blog on the imperialistic characteristics of online and traditional approaches to teaching: her “Access: The New Imperialism?” and his “The Campus: The Old Imperialism?” articles are very relevant to the social and cultural situation in which the LIFI team had to operate: while Switzerland became technically highly connected fairly early, ICT literacy progressed more slowly, and powers-that-be in education were – and still are to some extent – very wary of these “new” technologies. It is in this background claude_jan29that the LIFI team nevertheless managed to offer opportunities for vocational training (both basic and lifelong) via ICT to people living in remote Alpine areas, but also in (African) Guinea, where creating new brick-and-mortar schools would have been much more expensive.

Progetto Poschiavo – LIFI movingAlps

In 1997, a group of researchers based in Lugano (CH) started organizing sustainable development and training projects that used online technology (video conference, virtual learning platform, e-mail, etc.) to connect people in remote areas with experts from a range of academic institutions.

The success of the first, Progetto Poschiavo (1997-2004), limited to one Alpine valley, led to further projects, among which movingAlps [2] (2004-2008), which covered Val Bregaglia, Vallemaggia and Val d’Anniviers.

These projects were characterized by a multidisciplinary approach combining economic analysis and cultural anthropology, in order to first gather data about the potential resources of the area and the wishes of the inhabitants, and only then help them to structure, finance and enact their own development initiatives.

During movingAlps, these researchers were based at the Università della Svizzera Italiana [3], where they created LIFI [4] and offered courses based on these concrete experiences. But in2008, the university council decided, to put an end to LIFI. There may have been administrative reasons for this decision – the status of LIFI was exceptional – yet it seems rather paradoxical in the year in which Michael Wesch became one of the CASE/Carnegie U.S. Professors of the Year for Doctoral and Research Universities (see [5]) for his own use of cultural anthropology in research and teaching about our present information society.

Taking Stock

Fortunately, the knowledge gathered in these projects remains available in two forms: the texts gathered in the movingAlps Vademecum (downloadable in Italian, German and French from [6]; see also the movingAlps Vademecum discussion in English on Innovate-Ideagora [7]) and in Graziano Terrani’s documentary “Un Successo Condannato” for Radiotelevisione della Svizzera di lingua italiana, which illustrates vividly the activities and results of movingAlps, for instance:

  • Punto Bregaglia, a business conference and training centre in Val Bregaglia [8],
  • PercorsoArianna [9], which fostered the creation of women’s micro-enterprises,
  • minimovingAlps [10], where pre-school children freely photographed their environment, which led to further initiatives, like the creation of a “Gnomes’ Village” playground in Avegno, where the children were directly involved in the design, and Cià c’am va [11], a series of itineraries in Val Bregaglia based on the photographs taken by the local kids, which offers activities for families with young children.

ciacamva_dianaFrom the site of Cià c’am va [11].

Participants’ Viewpoints

From Graziano Terrani’s documentary (GTD):

Maurizio Michael (Centro Punto Bregaglia): On the one hand, Punto Bregaglia strives to pursue what has been done so far within movingAlps, hence to provide a continuity and to reinforce those activities and initiatives. And on the other hand, it offers a space to local enterprises wishing to grow and cooperate towards the development of our area. . . .

Romana Rotanzi (PercorsoArianna): When movingAlps started here, it seemed aimed at teaching us how to fish rather than at giving us just one fish, I mean that its purpose was to give people the bases enabling them to do a thousand things. I didn’t want to be left out. So I was very pleased when I heard that we could learn how to use computers without having to go to Locarno – which, for me, means one hour’s journey. This training offer arrived when my children had reached school age. And with some cleverness and a few work-arounds, you can do it all, if you want to. I don’t feel in the marginalized anymore, it is as if I lived in Milan – why not? I too can find anything via the internet, now that I know how to use it . . . .

Gaby Minoggio (PercorsoArianna): At first, it seemed to be just a computer course. But afterwards, we discovered that it was a far more comprehensive kind of training, aimed at making women realize and exploit their know-how and potential. And I thought that a training offer here in the valley was an opportunity not to be missed. It was a full evolutionary process for us six women, which now we manage ourselves: training, at first, and then this evolution through our activities . . . . So, obviously, we are satisfied with our involvement.


Logo of the percorsoArianna project.


Giuliana Messi, of the movingAlps team in Lugano, says in GTD:

When you manage a project, it is right to leave it after a while, and let people continue on their own. I think that the 3-4 projects started in Vallemaggia last well. And then there are less visible, yet important, things: for instance, women who participated in percorsoArianna who tell me that they have become reference persons for others, and so on – this is positive empowerment.

And in fact, several initiatives started within movingAlps are still going on after the end of the project. Apart from the Punto Bregaglia business and communication center, in Val d’Anniviers: a census of local architectural and artistic works and a gathering of traditional legends and tales, for instance. Participants have found alternatives to the infrastructure offered by movingAlps. Again, from GTD:

Adriana Tenda Claude (PercorsoArianna): We have opened a blog as a way to replace the room we were able to use for our monthly meetings . . . before, and also, partly, the virtual learning platform we had for the two years of PercorsoArianna. Also to stimulate the development of our projects.


Screenshot of the movingAlps virtual learning platform

Nevertheless, other initiative ideas were not yet sufficiently developed to be able to continue on their own.

Moreover, the work of the LIFI team has been characterized by the use of the data gathered in former projects to start new ones: apart from movingAlps, the initial Poschiavo project had also led to Projet Guinée, in collaboration with the Institut Supérieur des Sciences de l’Education (ISSEG) in Conakry, which aimed at the development of literacy through the creation of cooperative microentreprises (see Amadou Tidjane Diallo, “Aphabétisation, développement communautaire et utilisation des TIC dans la formation,” 2003 [12].

ma_initiative_develDevelopment process of movingAlps initiatives (from movingAlps Vademecum).

True, the summary of the movingAlps data in the above-mentioned Vademecum (see above and [6]) and in other LIFI publications (see [13]) are available for the development of further projects. But it will not be the same as the possibility to refer to a team working with the necessary infrastructure in one place. Hence the understandable disappointment expressed by its director, Dieter Schürch, at the end of Graziano Terrani’s documentary:

Involving such a conspicuous number of people, creating a team of collaborators from several fields, organizing a series of activities that have enabled these regions to launch sustainable initiatives – and being unable to continue – this is very sad. The fact that we cannot carry on beyond this deadline does not only harm these projects and regions, but also the image of the University where we were working until now, I think.

Unhide That Hidden Text, Please

claude80By Claude Almansi
Staff Writer

Thanks to:

  • Marie-Jeanne Escure, of Le Temps, for having kindly answered questions about copyright and accessibility issues in the archives of the Journal de Genève.
  • Gabriele Ghirlanda, of Unitas, for having tested the archives of the Journal de Genève with a screen reader.

What Hidden Text?

Here, “hidden text” refers to a text file combined by an application with another object (image, video etc.) in order to add functionality to that object: several web applications offer this text to the reader together with the object it enhances – DotSUB offers the transcript of video captions, for instance:


Screenshot from “Phishing Scams in Plain English” by Lee LeFever [1].

But in other applications, unfortunately, you get only the enhanced object, but the text enhancing it remains hidden even though it would grant access to content for people with disabilities that prevent them from using the object and would simplify enormously research and quotations for everybody.

Following are three examples of object-enhancing applications using text but keeping it hidden:

Multilingual Captioning of YouTube and Google Videos

Google offers the possibility to caption a video by uploading one or several text files with their timed transcriptions. See the YouTube example below.

yt_subtYouTube video captioning.

Google even automatically translates the produced captions into other languages, at the user’s discretion. See the example below. (See “How to Automatically Translate Foreign-Language YouTube Videos” by Terrence O’Brien, Switch,

yt_subt_trslOption to automatically translate the captions of a YouTube video.

Nov. 3, 2008 [2], from which the above two screenshots were taken.) But the text files of the original captions and their automatic translations remain hidden.

Google’s Search Engine for the US Presidential Campaign Videos

During the 2008 US presidential campaign, Google beta-tested a search engine for videos on the candidates’ speeches. This search engine works on a text file produced by speech-to-text technology. See the example below.

google_election_searchGoogle search engine for the US presidential election videos.

(See “Google Elections Video Search,” Google for Educators 2008 – where you can try the search engine in the above screenshot – [3] and “‘In Their Own Words’: Political Videos Meet Google Speech-to-text Technology” by Arnaud Sahuguet and Ari Bezman. Official Google blog, July 14, 2008 [4].) But here, too, the text files on which the search engine works remain hidden.

Enhanced Text Images in Online Archives

Maybe the oddest use of hidden text is when people go to the trouble of scanning printed texts, produce both images of text and real text files from the scan, then use the text file to make the image version searchable – but hide it. It happens with Google books [5] and with The European Library [6]: you can browse and search the online texts that appear as images thanks to the hidden text version, but you can’t print them or digitally copy-paste a given passage – except if the original is in the public domain: in this case, both make a real textual version available.

Therefore, using a plain text file to enhance an image of the same content, but hiding the plain text, is apparently just a way to protect copyrighted material. And this can lead to really bizarre solutions.

Olive Software ActivePaper and the Archives of Journal de Genève

On December 12, 2008, the Swiss daily Le Temps announced that for the first time in Switzerland, they were offering online “free access” to the full archives – www.letempsarchives.ch (English version at [7]) – of Le Journal de Genève (JdG), which, together with two other dailies, got merged into Le Temps in 1998. In English, see Ellen Wallace’s “Journal de Geneve Is First Free Online Newspaper (but It’s Dead),” GenevaLunch, Dec. 12, 2008 [8].

A Vademecum to the archives, available at [9] (7.7 Mb PDF), explains that “articles in the public domain can be saved as


images. Other articles will only be partially copied on the hard disk,” and Nicolas Dufour’s description of the archiving process in the same Vademecum gives a first clue about the reason for this oddity: “For the optical character recognition that enables searching by keywords within the text, the American company Olive Software adapted its software which had already been used by the Financial Times, the Scotsman and the Indian Times.” (These and other translations in this article are mine.)

The description of this software – ActivePaper Archive – states that it will enable publishers to “Preserve, Web-enable, and Monetize [their] Archive Content Assets” [10]. So even if Le Temps does not actually intend to “monetize” their predecessor’s assets, the operation is still influenced by the monetizing purpose of the software they chose. Hence the hiding of the text versions on which the search engine works and the digital restriction on saving articles still under copyright.

Accessibility Issues

This ActivePaper Archive solution clearly poses great problems for blind people who have to use a screen reader to access content: screen readers read text, not images.

Le Temps is aware of this: in an e-mail answer (Jan. 8, 2009) to questions about copyright and accessibility problems in the archives of JdG, Ms Marie-Jeanne Escure, in charge of reproduction authorizations at Le Temps, wrote, “Nous avons un partenariat avec la Fédération suisse des aveugles pour la consultation des archives du Temps par les aveugles. Nous sommes très sensibilisés par cette cause et la mise à disposition des archives du Journal de Genève aux aveugles fait partie de nos projets.” Translation: “We have a partnership with the Swiss federation of blind people (see [11]) for the consultation of the archives of Le Temps by blind people. We are strongly committed/sensitive to this cause, and the offer of the archives of Journal de Genève to blind people is part of our projects.”

What Digital Copyright Protection, Anyway?

Gabriele Ghirlanda, member of Unitas [12], the Swiss Italian section of the Federation of Blind people, tried the Archives of JdG. He says (e-mail, Jan. 15, 2009):

With a screenshot, the image definition was too low for ABBYY FineReader 8.0 Professional Edition [optical character recognition software] to extract a meaningful text.

But by chance, I noticed that the article presented is made of several blocs of images, for the title and for each column.

Right-clic, copy image, paste in OpenOffice; export as PDF; then I put the PDf through Abbyy Fine Reader. […]

For a sighted person, it is no problem to create a document of good quality for each article, keeping it in image format, without having to go through OpenOffice and/or pdf. [my emphasis]

<DIV style=”position:relative;display:block;top:0; left:0; height:521; width:1052″ xmlns:OliveXLib=”http://www.olive-soft.com/Schemes/XSLLibs&#8221; xmlns:OlvScript=”http://www.olivesoftware.com/XSLTScript&#8221; xmlns:msxsl=”urn:schemas-microsoft-com:xslt”><div id=”primImg” style=”position:absolute;top:30;left:10;” z-index=”2″><img id=”articlePicture” src=”/Repository/getimage.dll?path=JDG/1990/03/15/13/Img/Ar0130200.png” border=”0″></img></div><div id=”primImg” style=”position:absolute;top:86;left:5;” z-index=”2″><img id=”articlePicture” src=”/Repository/getimage.dll?path=JDG/1990/03/15/13/Img/Ar0130201.png” border=”0″></img></div><div id=”primImg” style=”position:absolute;top:83;left:365;” z-index=”2″><img id=”articlePicture” src=”/Repository/getimage.dll?path=JDG/1990/03/15/13/Img/Ar0130202.png” border=”0″></img></div><div id=”primImg” style=”position:absolute;top:521;left:369;” z-index=”2″><img id=”articlePicture” src=”/Repository/getimage.dll?path=JDG/1990/03/15/13/Img/Ar0130203.png” border=”0″></img></div><div id=”primImg” style=”position:absolute;top:81;left:719;” z-index=”2″><img id=”articlePicture” src=”/Repository/getimage.dll?path=JDG/1990/03/15/13/Img/Ar0130204.png” border=”0″></img></div>

From the source code of the article used by Gabriele Ghirlanda: in red, the image files he mentions.

Unhide That Hidden Text, Please

Le Temps‘ commitment to the cause of accessibility for all and, in particular, to find a way to make the JdG archives accessible to blind people (see “Accessibility Issues” above) is laudable. But in this case, why first go through the complex process of splitting the text into several images, and theoretically prevent the download of some of these images for copyrighted texts, when this “digital copyright protection” can easily be by-passed with right-click and copy-paste?

As there already is a hidden text version of the JdG articles for powering the search engine, why not just unhide it? www.letempsarchives.ch already states that these archives are “© 2008 Le Temps SA.” This should be sufficient copyright protection.

Let’s hope that Olive ActivePaper Archive software offers this option to unhide hidden text. Not just for the archives of the JdG, but for all archives working with this software. And let’s hope, in general, that all web applications using text to enhance a non-text object will publish it. All published works are automatically protected by copyright laws anyway.

Adding an alternative accessible version just for blind people is discriminatory. According to accessibility guidelines – and common sense – alternative access for people with disabilities should only be used when there is no other way to make web content accessible. Besides, access to the text version would also simplify life for scholars – and for people using portable devices with a small screen: text can be resized far better than a puzzle of images with fixed width and height (see the source code excerpt above).

The pages linked to in this article and a few more resources are bookmarked under http://www.diigo.com/user/calmansi/hiddentext